The Anguish of Leaving the Faith

by James

Following is a series of exchanges between myself and certain of my relatives who were disturbed about our deconversion from Christianity. Names have been replaced with generic references to protect the privacy of the others involved. Text in brackets indicates changes in the original to omit material that would identify one relative to another.

Contents

First Letter from Relatives to Alison & Me

November 13, 1997

Dear Alison and James,

This letter is in response to your apparent new belief/ practice that the Bible is not true and that there is no God. We will preface our remarks by saying that everything we write is because of our deep love for you.

First I will state our feelings. These include the following: very upset (wake up at night worrying), grieving, angry, sad, and worse thing that has ever happened to our family. We never would have dreamed that your family would have caused us grief of a nature like this. [Another relative] feels betrayed because she looked up to you and your family as a roll model.

James, we hold you responsible because we firmly believe that Alison would never have come up with this on her own. James, you met Alison in [church]. [Names omitted] sanctified your marriage as a believing, Christian couple. James, you have a wonderful wife and mother to your children because Alison was raised and nurtured in a Christian home, a Christian church and the Christian faith. James, God has blessed you with a wonderful Christian wife; three wonderful, healthy children; a good job; a fine home; and good health. We rejoice in God's blessings for you and your family. [Names omitted] are proud of you and believe you have been an excellent husband to Alison and an excellent father to your children. James, we definitely believe that your past history and your family history play a part in your new thinking.

We have a major disagreement within our family for the first time. We have been in harmony up to now. Now we do not agree with your beliefs and are very concerned with the way [your children] are being raised.

If this belief/way of life continues then we are worried and afraid that your great family will suffer. In fact, I predict that it will, as much as I hate to make such a prediction. The resulting problems have already started because of our being hurt so much and by the new disharmony within our family.

With our Christian beliefs, I believe we are in a "Win-Win" situation. We win in this life and we win in the afterlife. With a godless philosophy of life I believe you are in a "Lose-Lose" situation. You lose in this life and you lose in the afterlife. Personally, we cannot see anything your family will gain with this new belief. But as we said before, there is much to be lost with it. You have no hope. If a tragedy occurs, you have no faith to sustain you. Without the Bible (God's word) there is no absolute basis for living and teaching your children.

We don't want to argue Christianity with you or to debate the "pros and cons" of one belief vs. another ( or Christianity vs. atheism, etc.). [One of the authors] does not want to read humanistic or any other practice or theology that leaves God out of the picture. We have absolutely nothing to gain by raising doubts about our beliefs. In fact, if the truth were that what we believe is false then it would do us only harm to discover it at this stage in our life. We would then have no faith and no hope. We could only look forward to the cold grave. Our great God is a great source of strength and hope to us!

We hope that this letter is of benefit to you. I feel that we must let you know where we stand on this issue - that we oppose it with all our being. This is a very serious matter. There is much to lose with this new thinking and nothing to gain. This is our definite stance on the matter. Again, the way we see it is as follows: If you accept and practice Christianity and it is false you have essentially lost nothing. If you reject Christianity and it is true, then you have lost everything.

I am sending three books which I hope and pray that you will read.

Our prayers are with you daily. We want to and plan to keep up our good family relationships.

With much love,
[Names omitted]

Copies to : [three other relatives]

My Reply: An Explanation of What Happened To Us

November 21, 1997

[Names omitted],

For 23 years I was a Christian. During that time — but especially after having children — I was very serious about living the Christian life and I studied the Bible to learn how to live it. As I studied, I began to encounter difficulties. For many years I overlooked these difficulties and accepted Christianity anyway, believing that the difficulties must have resolutions which I simply had not discovered yet.

However, the more I studied, the more numerous and prominent the difficulties became, to the extent that I could not overlook them any longer. I redoubled my efforts, studying the Bible and reading the apologists, and giving Christianity every benefit of the doubt. One day last Christmas season I sat down and opened my Bible for personal devotions and suddenly recognized that I did not believe it anymore. The cumulative force of the difficulties thoroughly and completely discredit Christianity, even for a sincere and willing believer, and the church simply cannot answer the difficulties.

I was a sincere, dedicated Christian, seriously trying to live the Christian life, and I lost faith as a result of studying the Bible — quite contrary to my own wish. I know that my very existence, as a Christian who rejects the faith based on knowledge of the faith, is threatening, and I understand why you all have reacted so strongly. Alison and I have experienced many of the same emotions about this that you have. Our loss of faith is something that happened to us while we were doing the things that Christians are supposed to do — not something that we willfully or maliciously decided. (Why would we? It would have been much easier to continue on as believers.) The whole process has been wrenching for us, and, like you, I have lost many hours of sleep because of it. However, knowing what I know, it is impossible for me to believe again. Belief is not something a person decides to do — belief is something a person experiences as a result of what he or she knows. To affirm something that is impossible for me to believe would be lying, and I cannot do it with a clear conscience.

[Name omitted], I am glad your letter said that you want to maintain good relations between the families. We want the same. It is because we wanted to maintain good family relations that we did not reveal our loss of faith when it first occurred. We wanted to slowly move away from the faith to give you all a chance to get used to the idea and spare you the shock. But we were found out by accident, and so now we all must deal with it.

You also said you do not want to debate the issue, and we agree, because debate would result in a family feud. However, I believe that there will always be tension between our families if we close off two-way dialog about the issue. I am willing to discuss the issues with you or any other family member, the only qualification being that we not discuss it in the hearing of the children.

Can we keep open the possibility of having a fair, two-way dialog?

–James

Copies: [the same three relatives], Alison

My Response to Receipt of Unsolicited Books from a Relative

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Received the books you sent...
Attachment:
Date: 12/2/97 2:05 PM

[Name omitted],

This is to let you know we received the books you sent last week. It was thoughtful of you to send them, but I don't intend to read them. I familiarized myself with the material in those books years ago, and to reread it at this time would be like rereading a first year general chemistry text now that I have a Ph.D. in chemistry.

However, this is not to say that I am unwilling to read them. In the spirit of fairness and give-and-take, I will read a book or chapter or essay of your choosing for every book or chapter or essay of my choosing that you read. After all, I shouldn't have to do all the work, especially since I am well-read on both sides of the issue already. And I can save you a great deal of time, since I have sorted through a library of written material and can point you to the best available.

The Bible says, "He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame," (Proverbs 18:13, NIV), and "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him," (Proverbs 18:17, NIV). Here's your chance to avoid the biblical condemnation of listening to only one side of an issue. The church has ignorantly and/or dishonestly fed you only one side of the story, and so of course the church will appear to be right "till another comes forward and questions [it]."

If you think I am being unreasonable to ask you to do this, remember that it was not I who asked you to disbelieve, but it was you who rejected my unbelief and took the initiative to get me to come back around to your view. You have put me in the unenviable position of either defending my unbelief or allowing myself to remain misunderstood and scorned. Since it is impossible for me to believe again, the only thing I can do is defend myself, and the only way I can defend myself is to somehow get you some exposure to the real and serious problems with the Christian religion, which the church has immorally neglected to do. Then, even if you do not lose faith in the face of all the evidence against Christianity, you can at least understand how I could.

If you accept this fair challenge, you can get started with Robert Price's Beyond Born Again. I sent a copy back with [name omitted], so you already have it at the house. For your information, Price was the pastor of a Baptist church when he wrote the book.

James

My Response to Receipt of an Unsolicited Opinion Column

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: "Morality doesn't evolve"
Attachment:
Date: 12/3/97 8:51 AM

[Name omitted],

We received the opinion column "Morality doesn't evolve" by Cal Thomas that you sent. I have a few things to say about it. I'll focus my comments on the phrases that you underlined.

Cal Thomas says, "God designed norms for behavior that are in our best interests." This is an unsubstantiated claim, and it is easily disproved by citing counter-examples:

1. Jesus said that if someone takes you to court and takes your shirt, then give him your coat also. How is this in your best interest? Would you yourself do such a thing?

2. Jesus said if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek to be slapped also. How is this in your best interest?

3. Jesus said if you are forced to go one mile, volunteer to go two. How is this in your best interest?

4. Paul said all government authority is established by God and should not be disobeyed. How was this in the best interests of humanity under Hitler's government?

5. Paul said that Christians are most to be pitied, because of the dreary lives they are forced to lead. If Paul himself testifies to the unpleasantness of the Christian life, how can Cal Thomas turn around and contradict him, saying that God's rules are in our own best interests?

6. The New Testament injunctions against divorce nowhere mention that divorce is permissible in cases of abuse. In fact, Peter specifically instructs the wife to accept the authority of her abusive husband, and to reverence him to the point of committing sin if he asks her to. How is this in the wife's best interest? The passage in question makes it clear that the wife's best interest is not even to be considered — it is God's interest that is being served at the expense of the wife.

These examples put the lie to one of Thomas's assumptions, but the primary criticism of Thomas's opinion is that his main thesis is wrong. Morals do evolve. This is easily proved by examples:

1. One and two generations ago in the Baptist church it was immoral to dance, play cards, go to movies, or drink a glass of wine at dinner (even though the Pilgrims themselves drank beer, and C. S. Lewis used to meet J. R. R. Tolkien at their favorite pub for an ale). It used to be immoral to divorce, but now [name omitted] church is violating the "biblical absolutes" and has decided to allow divorced men to become deacons. [Name omitted] church also celebrates the Lord's Supper using leavened bread, against all tradition and against all biblical mandates. Not too long ago this would have been considered wicked by the membership of [the] church, and it is still seen as a serious defilement of Christ's sacrament by most of Christendom. Certainly morals have evolved right in [this] church during your own lifetime, and the "biblical absolutes" are seen not to be so absolute after all.

2. If anything is sacred in our secular US system of laws, it is the right of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech was immoral when governments were ruled by the church — saying the wrong thing could get you stretched on the rack or burned at the stake. When governments were secularized they put freedom of speech in place to prevent tyrannies such as those promulgated under church rule during the Dark Ages and the Holy Inquisition. It was Voltaire, an atheist, who said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Here is another case of morals evolving. Freedom of speech was immoral under church rule, but it became moral under secular rule.

3. In more remote times, the rise of Christianity brought about another change in morals. Prior to Jesus, it was immoral for a man to equate himself with God. After the rise of the church, it became moral to call Jesus, the man, "very God." And this new morality was imposed by force. Not all Christian sects believed it. It so happened that the sects that believed it were the more powerful, and they imposed their belief on their opponents by excommunication, exile, and execution. Under threat of death it became immoral for a person to reveal his disbelief in the divinity of Jesus.

4. Another example is slavery, which is promoted by the Bible. Southern slaveholders used the Bible to defend slavery and they were able to make a better case for it using the Bible than abolitionists were able to make against it using the same Bible. It was only in the last century that the "biblical absolute" moral of slavery was finally overturned and now it has become immoral.

5. Another example is polygamy. The Old Testament approved polygamy, but now it is considered immoral. That again shows how absolute "biblical absolutes" are.

Cal Thomas says, "If ... morals are evolutionary ... on what basis?" What basis is a good question. The idea of basing morals on a revelation from God is incoherent. This can be seen by asking, "What makes something moral?" If we say something is moral because God said it's moral, then morality is left to the caprice of God. If God were to say that murder is good, we would have to agree. But we all agree, no matter what God says, that murder is immoral. Therefore, morals must be based upon something else besides the caprice (the words or character) of God. And if morals are based on something other than God's words, then we do not need God's words in order to know what is moral.

This fact is nicely illustrated by the Code of Hammurabi, which prohibits murder, stealing, adultery, and bearing false witness. Hammurabi's Code antedates the Ten Commandments by 600 years, and Hammurabi credits the code to his pagan god (Bel, I believe). Our own current day laws are based more on the legal system of the pagan Roman Empire than the "godly" laws of Moses or Jesus.

Cal Thomas says, "When we change the original standards there can be no standard left except popular opinion. And that has historically led to destruction of people and of nations." This statement is ignorant beyond all comprehension. The basis of morals is grounded in human needs. Cal Thomas himself admits that the basis of morals is human needs when he says, "God's standards ... were made for our benefit," and "God designed norms of behavior that are in our best interests." I admit it can be difficult to determine how best to serve human needs, and various societies have had varying success throughout history. Societies using God's words as the basis of their moral laws have faired no better than societies that base the moral laws on human needs, and often they have faired worse, as I will reference shortly.

Thomas derides popular opinion as a standard for morality, but popular opinion should not be so flippantly dismissed. Popular opinion is the very basis of our form of government. "Democracy" literally means "the people rule." It was invented to eliminate the tyrannies that arise when no one rules (anarchy), when a Pope rules (theocracy), when a king rules (monarchy or dictatorship), or when an elite class of people rule (aristocracy). I might also add that our system of democracy was invented by deists, people who understood that traditional Christian theism had been discredited, but who did not want to give up on the idea of some kind of a god. The American revolution would never have happened if the Founders believed Romans chapter 13.

Thomas also assumes, incorrectly, that the "original" standards of morality have come down to us unchanged from remote ages past. Actually, the standards of morality were changed with the rise of Judeo-Christian religion. Before, the standard was human needs, however misguided and ineffective the outworkings may have been. But when Judeo-Christian religion gained dominance, human needs gave way to subservience to God as the basis of moral law. This allowed the priesthood to gain power and live in relative luxury off the hard labor of their superstitious parishioners. The most minor offenses against the god were punishable by death from the earliest days — this in total disregard for human needs. Execution for heresy lasted until the ecclesiastical influence on government faded within the last three centuries, and secular control of government began to prevail as a result of the Enlightenment, when reason usurped dogma.

Contrary to Thomas's statement that morals based on public opinion has historically led to destruction of people and nations, the real truth is that morals based on God's words have historically led to precisely the results he describes, because human needs were sacrificed on the alter of the god's whims. One only has to read the bloody history of the church to see that this is the case.

James

And a Follow-On Response from Me on the Same Subject

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Crime statistics...
Attachment:
Date: 12/4/97 9:15 AM

[Name omitted], the following relates to the article about morals by Cal Thomas. Thought you would find it enlightening.

"REVELATION-BASED MORALS DO NOT WORK"

Some statistics from referenced therein: The New Criminology by Max D. Schlapp and Edward E. Smith and sources

During 10 years in Sing-Sing, of those executed for murder 65% were Catholics, 26% Protestants, 6% Hebrew, 2% Pagan, and less than 1/3 of 1% non-religious. In Joliet Prison, there were 2,888 Catholics, 1,020 Baptists, 617 Methodists and no prisoners identified as non-religious. Michigan had 82,000 Baptists and 83, 000 Jews in the state population; but in the prisons, there were 22 times as many Baptists as Jews, and 18 times as many Methodists as Jews. In Sing-Sing, there were 1,553 inmates, 855 of them (over half) Catholics, 518 Protestants, 117 Jews, and 8 non-religious. The US adult Catholic population of 6% supplys 50% of the prison population. Of course, correlation does not imply causation. Still it's hard to sustain the oft-heard claim that lack of religion is behind the high crime rate in the US.

James

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